Saturday, April 30, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 53, Saul Tries To Kill David

Earlier in Chapter 18 we found the young women of Israel singing songs about the bravery of David. They credited him with more battle kills than Saul, which offended and angered Saul and caused him to fall into another of his unstable moods.

In the throes of one of these moods, his paranoia reaches fever pitch and he makes two attempts on David's life, thinking David intends to take the kingship from him. As we read this next passage we need to keep in mind that it is impossible for the Lord to do evil or to tempt anyone with evil. Saul has repeatedly rejected the Lord's influence over his life and this has caused his tendency to be suspicious and violent to come to the forefront. The Lord allows Saul to fall into madness but the Lord doesn't cause Saul to be a wicked man. Saul's natural inclination is to be a wicked man who wants the Lord to maintain a "hands off" attitude toward him. Now that the Lord (like the gentleman He is) has respected Saul's wishes, there is nothing to keep his wickedness and insanity at bay. "The next day an evil spirit from God came forcefully on Saul. He was prophesying in his house, while David was playing the lyre, as he usually did. Saul had a spear in his hand and he hurled it, saying to himself, 'I'll pin David to the wall.' But David eluded him twice." (1 Samuel 18:10-11)

The word translated as "prophesying" can refer to one who is providing either a true or a false message. When it is used in relation to prophets called by the Lord, it is understood that they are speaking under the influence of the Holy Spirit. In Saul's case there is no reason to assume he is under the influence of the Holy Spirit; we have been told before and will be told again that the Spirit is no longer with Saul. Many Bible scholars are of the opinion that Saul is raving like a madman when the author of 1 Samuel tells us he is "prophesying". Have you ever been around someone who has lost their grip on reality? I've had to deal a number of times with a close relative who would fall into manic states and this person would talk at lightning fast speed, moving quickly from subject to subject, and most of what they were saying was illogical to those around them. In that person's mind, everything they were saying made sense. They completely believed what they were saying was true but everyone around them could clearly see that the person was living in their own reality at the moment. I think something similar happens to Saul when he lapses into his unstable moods. It's during these times that David is called for to play the lyre in hopes of soothing the king.

If Saul had not been in one of his angry, illogical, paranoid moods then I think David wouldn't be on the scene. He'd be overseeing his army duties instead of playing songs for the king. I think this helps to explain why David remains in Saul's employ even after he throws a spear at him twice in today's passage. David knows Saul isn't in control of his emotions. David can try to convince himself that Saul didn't really intend to kill him, saying to himself, "He doesn't know what he's doing! The poor man is losing his mind. He's seeing and hearing things that aren't there. He's imagining conspiracies where there aren't any. In his manic state he mistook me for his enemy instead of his loyal subject." 

Up until now Saul has wanted to keep David close to him, in spite of having unwarranted suspicions about him. But now he wants to put some distance between himself and the man upon whom he can clearly see the favor of God. "Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with David but had departed from Saul. So he sent David away from him and gave him command over a thousand men, and David led the troops in their campaigns. In everything he did he had great success, because the Lord was with him. When Saul saw how successful he was, he was afraid of him. But all Israel and Judah loved David, because he led them in their campaigns." (1 Samuel 18:12-16)

Saul knows the Lord intends to remove him from the throne of Israel---Samuel the prophet told him so. He knows he has not lived in a way that has pleased the Lord. This could have been a turning point for him. He could have taken this opportunity to repent and establish a personal relationship with the Lord. Instead he removes from his presence the person who has the most godly influence on him. The main reason he sends David away with the army is because he hopes an enemy arrow will strike him dead. But even if that doesn't happen, at least Saul won't be daily reminded of how close David is living to the Lord and how far he himself is living from the Lord. When a person does not want to make God the Lord of his life, he can find it very uncomfortable to be around someone who loves the Lord and who considers it a joy to serve Him. 

Saul's two attempts to kill David with a spear have failed. He pretends to be over his fit of madness and behaves as if he is going to keep his promise to give David his eldest daughter in marriage. At the moment, because he can see the Lord's hand of protection is upon David, he is afraid to make another attempt on his life. Later on he will become so obsessed with David and so overwhelmed by paranoia that he will no longer fear the Lord taking vengeance on him for harming David, but right now he's pinning his hopes on the Philistine army. If David is killed in battle, Saul's problem will be solved for him. "Saul said to David, 'Here is my older daughter Merab. I will give her to you in marriage; only serve me bravely and fight the battles of the Lord.' For Saul said to himself, 'I will not raise a hand against him. Let the Philistines do that!'" (1 Samuel 18:17)

Saul tries to make David feel at ease with him again, to smooth things over so David won't suspect he really wants him dead. He says something like, "I'm sorry for the way I behaved before. I wasn't myself. I was out of my head. I would never wish you harm. You know how highly I regard you! You know how much I need you helping to lead the army! Let's let bygones be bygones. I respect you so much and like you so much that I still want you to be my son-in-law. You may have the hand of my daughter Merab in marriage, just as I promised. I haven't changed my mind about that. You'll become part of the royal family of Israel. You'll have great wealth and fame. Please don't stop helping me defend our nation against the Philistines!"

Tomorrow we'll see what a humble spirit David has. He doesn't feel he is worthy to become son-in-law to the king. He isn't seeking honor for himself. He's seeking honor for the Lord and for Israel. In contrast to David, Saul is a man who looks out only for himself.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 52, A New Friend And A New Enemy

David killed Goliath in Chapter 17 and the Philistines fell into a panic and fled. The army of Israel pursued them, inflicting mass casualties on the enemy. As we closed yesterday's study, David was standing before King Saul at his request, still holding the head of Goliath in his head. Saul had called him into his presence to thank and honor him and also perhaps to ask what compelled him to attempt such an amazing feat as to face down the giant.

The Bible doesn't provide us with a detailed account of this conversation but I believe David gave his testimony for the Lord. Upon hearing the conversation between David and the king, the king's son Jonathan recognizes a kindred spirit in this courageous young man. Earlier in the book of 1 Samuel we learned that Jonathan is a man of faith and bravery too. These two young men, similar in age, are about to become lifelong best friends. "After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself." (1 Samuel 18:1) 

Some critics of the Bible have attempted to make something romantic or sexual of the friendship between David and Jonathan but there is absolutely no basis whatsoever for suggesting such a thing. The author of 1 Samuel presents their friendship in a very positive light, which would not be the case on the pages of Scripture had there been anything going on between them that contradicts the word of God. The author clearly says they are "one in spirit", which means that they both have the same love for the Lord, the same type of strong faith in the Lord, the same type of love for their nation and its people, similar opinions on major matters, and similar personalities. Isn't that what can be said of most "best friend" friendships? It's extremely difficult if not impossible to be best friends with someone if we do not have a lot in common with them. That doesn't mean we have to like all the same things and have all the same hobbies and have identical opinions on every issue, but there must be more similarities between us than differences. If we don't have any of the same opinions and if we don't enjoy any of the same activities, what would we even do with our time together? To quote Amos 3:3, "Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?" We have to be in agreement in many important ways with a person in order to form a "best friend" friendship with them. When Jonathan stands beside his father listening to David's words, he recognizes someone with whom he is very much in agreement. 

Saul honors David by making him a full time officer in his army. "From that day Saul kept David with him and did not let him return home to his family." (1 Samuel 18: 2) To show his appreciation for David's bravery, Jonathan bestows upon him a fine princely outer robe, a military tunic, and some of his own weapons. "And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt." (1 Samuel 18:3-4)  The bestowing of armor or weapons upon a courageous warrior was a common practice in ancient cultures. It was a great honor for a warrior returning from battle to be awarded items belonging to someone of higher rank than himself. In gifting his own personal items to David, Jonathan is demonstrating his gratitude and respect for all that David has done for the nation. It is a way of saying, "I am in your debt for the great service you've performed this day." 

In addition to honoring David's military success with these items, many scholars believe that because Jonathan has a close relationship with the Lord, the Holy Spirit has revealed to him that David will be the next king of Israel. These scholars interpret his handing over of many princely items as being symbolic of his handing over his familial claim to the throne. As Saul's eldest son and chief heir, Jonathan is viewed by one and all as the crown prince of Israel. The people expect him to succeed his father as king. But Jonathan knows the Lord has other plans and he is happy to submit to the Lord's will. Jonathan wants what is best for himself, for David, and for the entire nation of Israel---and that means letting the Lord have His way. If it is not the Lord's will for Jonathan to be king, then far be it from Jonathan to want something that is contrary to what the Lord wants. He is happy to serve the Lord in whatever role the Lord chooses for him, and I believe as we learn more about Jonathan we'll see that his personality and talents are more suited for a military role than for a political role.

Saul gives David more and more responsibility in the army as time and again David proves himself to be wise and capable. "Whatever mission Saul sent him on, David was so successful that Saul gave him a high rank in the army. This pleased all the troops, and Saul's officers as well." (1 Samuel 18:5) The men like and respect David so much that none of them minds the younger man being promoted so quickly through the ranks. None of them resents him being placed in authority over some who are older and more experienced than he is. They are glad to follow him because he is following the Lord, which ensures success. It is probably a relief to them, since Saul has become somewhat unstable, to have someone to follow who is led not by his fickle emotions but by the word of God and by the common sense the Lord gave him.

The women of Israel compose songs about David's bravery. "When the men were returning home after David had killed the Philistine, the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with timbrels and lyres. As they danced, they sang: 'Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.'" (1 Samuel 18:6-7) They credit David with greater military victory than Saul, perhaps because more Philistines were killed following David's slaying of Goliath than were killed when by Saul and his men when they fought the Philistines at Gibeah earlier in the book. 

Saul expects to be greeted as the primary hero of the day. He doesn't expect the young David's fame to be greater than that of the king of Israel. It doesn't sit well with him at all. "Saul was very angry; this saying displeased him greatly. 'They have credit David with tens of thousands,' he thought, 'but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?' And from that time on Saul kept a close eye on David." (1 Samuel 18:8-9) Saul has been told by the prophet Samuel that, because he has stubbornly clung to a spirit of rebellion and has deliberately disobeyed the Lord a number of times and is not sorry for it, the kingdom will be taken from him and given to another. Instead of repenting to the Lord and seeing if He will relent in this matter, Saul has allowed Samuel's prophecy to make him paranoid and suspicious. He has grown even farther from the Lord and is becoming worn down from the stress being vigilant for anyone wanting to usurp him. He has no idea Samuel has already anointed David king upon command of the Lord but, of all the men currently in Israel, David seems to him to be the most likely candidate for the Lord's favor and for the people's favor.

You've probably heard the expression, "Keep your friends close and keep your enemies closer." Saul now views David as his enemy but he doesn't discharge David from the army and send him back home to Bethlehem to tend sheep. It would be harder to keep tabs on him if he's far away. Saul, like many people who cannot be trusted, distrusts others. He assumes they will behave in the way he would behave, so he's on high alert for any indications David might be planning a coup to take the throne from him. This is why, instead of sending him back into the wilderness with the sheep, he keeps "a close eye" on him.

As we continue our study of Chapter 18 tomorrow we'll find Saul becoming more and more obsessed with the idea that David is a threat to him. The man who so recently thanked David for his service upon behalf of Israel will soon want him dead.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 50, David And Goliath, Part Four

For forty days Goliath has taunted the army of Israel. For forty days he has called to the Israelites to send a man out to fight him. Suddenly he sees someone step out of the ranks and start moving in his direction. When he gets close enough to the person to get a good look at him, he is astonished and insulted to see that the volunteer is a youth who is dressed in shepherd's robes instead of in armor and who is carrying a shepherd's staff instead of a sword. We don't know whether Goliath sees the slingshot in David's other hand but I suspect he doesn't because he only mentions "sticks" (a reference to the shepherd's staff) in this next segment below. 

"Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. He looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him. He said to David, 'Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?' And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 'Come here,' he said, 'and I'll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!'" (1 Samuel 17:41-44) David is younger than any man the Israelites could have sent out. He has less training than anyone they could have sent out; in fact, he has no battle experience at all. On top of his youth and inexperience, he's so handsome he's what could be termed "beautiful" and this enrages Goliath because he assumes the Israelites are playing a joke at his expense. How do we know this? Because the word translated in verse 43 as "dog" is the same word used in other places in the Bible to denote an effeminate/transvestite male or a male prostitute. Goliath is saying to the army of Israel: "Is this the best you've got? Do you think this is funny? Do I look like a sissy boy to you that you would send out this young guy who looks like an underwear model to beat me with a stick? Well, come on then, boy! Come and let me tear you to pieces!"

David has never engaged in the trash talk that was customary before two men entered hand-to-hand combat but he rises to the occasion admirably. "David said to the Philistine, 'You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I'll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord's, and He will give you into our hands.'" (1 Samuel 17:45-47) David gets the last word and he gets the best word. We could almost call this a "mic drop" moment when he concludes his statement of faith.

Earlier in Chapter 17 we were told how tall Goliath is and how heavily armored Goliath is and how long and deadly his spear is. None of that matters because, as David says, the battle is the Lord's. Goliath could be ten times taller than he is, be wearing armor tough enough to stop a bullet, and be carrying a machine gun and he would still lose the fight. 

"As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground. So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him. David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine's sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword." (1 Samuel 17:48-51a) All the glory for this victory goes to the Lord. If David had outsmarted Goliath in battle somehow or had managed to strike a lucky blow with King Saul's sword, the Israelites and the Philistines both might have solely credited David for this stunning outcome. But David used a smooth stone, created by the Lord and unshaped by the tools of man, to slay a giant. David was very clear in his words to Goliath that the victory would come from the Lord alone. Everyone heard David glorifying the name of the Lord and giving Him credit ahead of time before he met Goliath on the field. David's confident prediction has come true and it's clear to everyone who witnessed what happened that the Lord had to have participated in the young shepherd's victory over the battle-experienced giant.

The power of the Lord on our behalf is never more evident than when we are facing an impossible obstacle. When we know we can't solve our problems with human strength or human ingenuity, and when victory comes in spite of that, there's no place we should point praise and glory except to the Lord. David knew he was no match for Goliath without the Lord on his side. He knew the Lord was on his side and, because he had that confident assurance, he was able to begin praising God in advance. The fame of the Lord's power on behalf of Israel spreads far and wide, as David predicted, because no one thought he could face down a giant and win. Even the heathen nations surrounding Israel are forced to conclude that the Lord is mighty on behalf of His people. The majority of those pagan people likely never forsook their false gods for the Lord upon hearing the feat He performed for Israel but the Lord is being merciful to them by displaying His great power in this manner. He's giving them an opportunity to turn to Him and be saved. We can only hope at least some of them did just that.

Monday, April 25, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 49, David And Goliath, Part Three

David volunteered to fight Goliath and Saul tried to talk him out of it in yesterday's portion of Scripture. Saul did not believe that a man of David's youth and military inexperience had a chance. That would certainly have been true if the Lord were left out of the equation but David expressed his faith and confidence that the Lord would be with him and give him victory. Convinced, (or at least hopeful), Saul agreed to send David forward to meet the giant in battle.

This is where we pick up today, with Saul helping David to prepare himself for the showdown ahead. "Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them. 'I cannot go in these,' he said to Saul, 'because I am not used to them.' So he took them off." (1 Samuel 17:38-39) 

David doesn't have any battle armor because he hasn't been serving in the army; he's been working as a shepherd for his father and as a part-time musician for the king. Saul dresses him in his own armor and hands him his own sword. I think this should be considered as a symbol of Saul's high esteem for the courageous young man and it should be taken as proof that Saul cares about David's welfare. That won't always be the case, but in this moment I believe Saul is honestly in awe of David's courage. Whether or not David survives his meeting with Goliath, in Saul's estimation he is a great hero.

David is willing to wear the armor until he realizes it will be a handicap to him. Soldiers had to train in their armor until they were used to it, for it was quite heavy and stiff, and David has not had this training. Saul's armor is likely heavier than most because as the king he would have had the best of the best and because we were told earlier in the book that he stood head and shoulders taller than any other man in Israel. I think David must be quite tall himself or else the king would have thought it ridiculous to try to put his armor on him, but the tunic and coat of armor are probably a few inches long enough to hinder his movement and the sword may be a bit longer than average. On top of these items not being custom made for him, David doesn't even know how to walk and move about normally in them, much less how to fight in them. Saul meant well in supplying the armor but it will be a disadvantage to David and he respectfully hands these items back to him.

Being a shepherd and a man who composes songs and plays a musical instrument, David isn't experienced at wielding a sword. But he's accustomed to using a slingshot. He's had to find a way to fill many long, quiet, dull hours over the years while the sheep grazed calmly in the meadows and I think he probably filled some of those hours doing target shooting with his slingshot. He isn't at all confident he can fight with a sword but he knows he's pretty accurate with a slingshot. "Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd's bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine." (1 Samuel 17:40) 

Earlier in Chapter 17 we were informed that Goliath is heavily armored from his head to his feet and that he has a shield bearer who walks ahead of him with a shield to help deflect any arrows that fly Goliath's way. The armor and the shield are quite effective in protecting Goliath from being stabbed by a sword or shot with an arrow; the only part of him that isn't covered in metal is his face (at least the upper half of it) so he can see where he's going. David is going to have to strike him in the one place his armor isn't protecting him, and if David had not had so many hours to fill while guarding the sheep alone in the fields and in the wilderness, he would not have had a chance of hitting his target. But the Lord has been using his time as a shepherd to prepare him for this pivotal moment.

We may think a lot of the things we've done and a lot of the places we've been and a lot of the circumstances we've experienced have been pointless. But the Lord can use all those things for our benefit. David, as the youngest child of the family, was assigned the task of watching the sheep because it was considered a menial job fit only for a servant or for a youth whose family isn't ready to trust him with jobs that require a lot of critical thinking or hard manual labor. I am sure there were many times when David felt restless and wished he had more to do. He may have felt that his smarts and his strengths and his talents were being wasted while he watched over sheep in the back of beyond. But instead of wasting time complaining about his job he used the time to develop a personal relationship with the Lord and to learn to use a slingshot and to practice scaring away or fighting away predators with his shepherd's staff. All of those things were training for what he's doing in our passage today. If David had never been a shepherd, he wouldn't have come to know and love the Lord as much as he does. If David had never been a shepherd, he could never have defeated a giant. If David had never been a shepherd, he could never have been a great king. 

The Lord is not wasteful. He can use every experience of our lives, dull though some of them may have seemed and unpleasant as some of them may have been, to help us develop more faith and trust in Him and to help us do great things for His kingdom. Who would have thought David's time in the sheepfold would prepare him to become a giant-killer? And yet that's the very thing that will ensure his success as we study Part Four tomorrow.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 48, David And Goliath, Part Two

David has been sent by his father to the army camp to take supplies to his three older brothers and to deliver a gift to their unit commander. He hears the scornful words Goliath the Philistine is shouting to the army of Israel and is shocked and offended by them. He overhears the Israelite soldiers talking about the deal Saul has offered to any man willing to fight and kill Goliath: this man will be given the daughter of Saul in marriage, will be rewarded with great wealth, and will have himself and his family exempted from taxation. 

As our study concluded yesterday, David's oldest brother Eliab was scolding him for hanging around the camp talking to the men. Eliab is resentful of his baby brother and considers him a nuisance. He thinks David has no business there now that he's delivered the things their father sent and he called David "conceited" and "wicked", claiming he was lingering in the camp hoping to witness a fight. In response to Eliab's harsh words, David replies: "Now what have I done? Can't I even speak?'" (1 Samuel 17:29) In my head his reply sounds like this: "What are you upset with me about this time? What's wrong with asking about the situation with Goliath here? What's wrong with letting the men tell me what Saul is offering to anyone brave enough to conquer the giant? I know you've never had much interest in talking with me but am I not allowed to talk to others either?"

David is shocked to learn that the army has remained stuck in one place for forty days and forty nights out of fear of the Philistines. He's amazed that no man has stepped forward to silence Goliath's blasphemous words against the God of Israel. It could be that Eliab is angry because he feels very uncomfortable when he sees in David's eyes a strong desire to fight for the honor of the Lord's name and for the glory of Israel, since Eliab himself does not feel this level of zeal. Though David is not rebuking his brother for not stepping forward to fight Goliath, in his heart Eliab may imagine he is being rebuked. He probably feels ashamed that he is too frightened of Goliath to fight him and he may think it looks bad to his younger brother that he hasn't volunteered. We don't know how big and strong Eliab is, but the prophet Samuel was so impressed with his appearance when he first met him that he thought surely Eliab was the man God had chosen as the next king. This indicates that he looks almost as physically powerful as King Saul, who we were told was the tallest man in Israel at that time. It may be that Eliab is the second tallest man in Israel and that he stands out in the crowd in a way that has caused many of his fellow soldiers to think he is the logical choice for fighting Goliath, not that anyone in the army comes anywhere close to being as physically large as Goliath. I've heard it suggested that when Eliab accuses David of hanging around in the army camp "only to watch the battle", he means David is hoping to see him fight. 

David doesn't allow his thoughts to linger on how unwelcome his brother is making him feel. There are bigger issues at stake. "He then turned away to someone else and brought up the same matter, and the men answered him as before. What David said was overheard and reported to Saul, and Saul sent for him. David said to Saul, 'Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.'" (1 Samuel 17:30-32) David expresses to the soldiers his willingness to fight the giant and his words travel quickly through the ranks until they reach Saul's ears. Was Saul informed of the identity of the man willing to fight Goliath before he sent for him? If not, he was likely surprised and also disappointed when he saw it was his young part-time musician. Or, if he knew it was David before he called for him, did he call him so he could talk him out of it? It will be clear from our next passage that Saul doesn't think David is up to the task. I imagine he says the following words to David in a fatherly tone, for at this time Saul still thinks very highly of the young man who is able to soothe his troubled mind with music. "Saul replied, 'You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.'" (1 Samuel 17:33) He says something like, "Son, I appreciate your bravery in volunteering. I believe you are sincere in your desire to defend your nation against the enemy. But you don't have the experience to do what you're proposing to do. Even if Goliath were an average-sized man he'd still have the advantage over you. He's a veteran of many wars. He's been loaded down with medals for bravery in combat. Only a man with as much or more experience as he has would even have a chance against him. You can't go out to fight him. It means certain death!"

But David cannot be dissuaded. He respectfully disagrees with Saul's assessment of his ability to successfully fight the giant. The reason he disagrees with Saul is not because he thinks he is strong enough to fight Goliath but because he thinks God is strong enough to help him fight the giant. The Lord has given David extra measures of strength in the past to do what needed to be done and David trusts that the Lord will do the same thing again. "But David said to Saul, 'Your servant has been keeping his father's sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.' Saul said to David, 'Go, and the Lord be with you.'" (1 Samuel 17:34-37)

David doesn't argue with Saul about his own military abilities, or the lack thereof. He doesn't try to claim that the quickness of his youth and smaller size will give him an advantage over the older and bigger Goliath. He simply says, "My God will rescue me." His unshakable confidence in the Lord convinces Saul that he might actually be able to pull this off. Saul's own relationship with the Lord is pretty much nonexistent by this time but it's clear even to him that the Lord must have endowed David with superhuman strength when fighting off bears and lions that threatened the flock. He reasons that perhaps the Lord will continue to show such favor to David and will enable him to fight off the enemies of the flock of Israel. 

Join us tomorrow as David, believing he cannot fail because the Lord never fails, readies himself to face down a giant. 

Saturday, April 23, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 47, David And Goliath, Part One

Saul and his army are camped opposite the army of the Philistines in the Valley of Elah. For forty days Goliath, the champion soldiers of the Philistines, has shouted challenges and insults at the soldiers of Israel. He invited the Israelites to send out a man to fight him rather than sending their whole army to fight the Philistine army. But the Israelites have no man who is anywhere near as big as Goliath and they have all remained where they are, "dismayed and terrified" as the author told us yesterday.

But the size of the giant doesn't matter. And the size of whoever opposes the giant doesn't matter. What matters is that the Lord is bigger and more powerful than anyone or anything. A young man is about to arrive on the scene who understands this. "Now Jesse said to his son David, 'Take this ephah of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread for your brothers and hurry to their camp. Take along these ten cheeses to the commander of their unit. See how your brothers are and bring back some assurance from them. They are with Saul and all the men of Israel in the Valley of Elah, fighting against the Philistines.'" (1 Samuel 17:17-20)

We learned yesterday that David's three oldest brothers are serving in the army. Jesse doesn't know the army hasn't made a move for forty days and thinks his son and their comrades are "fighting against the Philistines". He wants to make sure his sons have not been injured or killed in battle. He sends David with provisions for the three men, along with a gift for their unit commander, and instructs him to ascertain their welfare and quickly bring back a report to him. David does as he is told without any questions or complaints, as he is used to doing. As the youngest son he appears to have been treated as a servant much of the time but it doesn't seem to bother him. Serving his family with a cheerful spirit has taught him to serve the Lord with a cheerful spirit and will help him to serve the people of Israel with a cheerful spirit when he becomes king.

"Early in the morning David left the flock in the care of a shepherd, loaded up and set out, as Jesse had directed." (1 Samuel 17:20a) He makes sure the sheep are in good hands before he leaves. I don't know whether he hires someone to watch them or whether he asks another shepherd to watch his flock along with theirs. But David is a good shepherd who cares for the sheep and this is a picture of the Lord: the Good Shepherd. "He reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions, shouting the war cry. Israel and the Philistines were drawing up their lines facing each other. David left his things with the keeper of supplies, ran to the battle lines and asked his brothers how they were." (1 Samuel 17:20b-22) This scene has played out every morning for the past forty days. It's not that the two nations are about to rush into combat at the very moment David arrives on the scene; they've been lining up in battle array facing each other for more than a month without an arrow being shot and without anyone charging at anyone with a sword. 

Just as he has done every morning and every evening for forty days, Goliath steps out in front of the Philistine army to hurl insults and challenges to the soldiers of Israel and to curse the name of God. But there is something different about this day. On this day David hears him. "As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it. Whenever the Israelites saw the man, they all fled from him in great fear." (1 Samuel 17:23-24) David doesn't flee in fear. I think he turns from his brothers to look at this man in shock and perhaps with his mouth open but not because he is astonished by Goliath's size. He's shocked by the defiant words Goliath speaks against the God of Israel. He's insulted and offended for the sake of the Lord's holy name and for the sake of the Lord's people Israel.

No man wants to engage Goliath in hand-to-hand combat. In order to encourage someone to step forward, Saul has made an offer he hopes someone will be courageous enough (or greedy enough or reckless enough) to accept. "Now the Israelites had been saying, 'Do you see how this man keeps coming out? He comes out to defy Israel. The king will give great wealth to the man who kills him. He will also give him his daughter in marriage and will exempt his family from taxes in Israel.'" (1 Samuel 17:25) This is the sweetest deal Saul could make for anyone: that the man who kills Goliath becomes his son-in-law and therefore a part of the royal family, that the man will be given great wealth, and that the man's family will be free from taxation. The tax rate was probably quite hefty, for the prophet Samuel had warned the people that the king would demand much from them, not just in monetary taxation but in taking percentages of their crops and livestock. The person who kills Goliath will become a very wealthy and powerful man, second only to the king.

In spite of knowing this offer is on the table, and in spite of how great an offer it is, it hasn't been enough to induce anyone to enter the ring with a man who stands over nine feet tall. David catches a few snippets of conversation regarding the king's offer and asks for clarification. "David asked the men standing near him, 'What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?'" (1 Samuel 17:26) David asks, "Who does this guy think he is that he can oppose the Lord's people? How dare this heathen idolater speak against the holy name of our God? Whether or not Saul is going to do something for the man who puts an end to this blasphemer, it should be considered an honor to take Goliath out and put a stop to the abominable curses coming out of this mouth."

The soldiers repeat the words David overheard regarding Saul's offer. David's oldest brother is annoyed with him, thinks he is wasting time hanging around the camp, thinks he is being a nuisance to the men (because Eliab has always treated his baby brother like a nuisance), and scolds him in front of the men. "They repeated what they had been saying and told him, 'This is what will be done for the man who kills him.' When Eliab, David's oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, 'Why have you come down here? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle." (1 Samuel 17:27-28) There are probably quite a few years between Eliab's age and David's age since there were six brothers born between them. The age difference between them probably means Eliab has found David annoying ever since David was a small toddler and he still finds him annoying. In addition he may be jealous and resentful toward him because David was anointed by Samuel as the future king. As the oldest son and his father's chief heir, Eliab considers himself far more qualified to lead the nation than his baby brother. 

In a fit of irritation Eliab says to David something like this: "Why are you still here? You've dropped off the supplies our father sent and you should have already been on your way back to Bethlehem to perform your 'important' job of watching those few pitiful sheep, which is the most responsibility you can be trusted with. What use do you think you can be to the army? Quit rubbernecking to see what you can see and head back home where you can at least be of some use with the flock."

David didn't come to watch the battle and David isn't going to watch the battle---he's going to start the battle! He's going to strike the first blow against the Philistines by taking out the man they thought would eventually frighten and discourage the Israelites enough to surrender without a fight. The reason David will be able to do this is because his trust in God is far greater than any fear of Goliath. 

Friday, April 22, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 46, Goliath Challenges Israel

As Chapter 17 opens we find the Philistines amassing their forces to attack the Israelites again. The most famous giant of the Bible, Goliath, challenges the Israelites to send a man out to fight him.

"Now the Philistines gathered their forces of war and assembled at Sokoh in Judah. They pitched camp at Ephes Dammim, between Sokoh and Azekah. Saul and the Israelites camped in the Valley of Elah and drew up their battle lines to meet the Philistines. The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them." (1 Samuel 17:1-3) The last time we saw the Philistines they were fleeing from the army of Israel. They were soundly defeated and chased out of the country. But some time has passed and now they want to recover from their shame by restoring their fierce reputation and by regaining a hold over at least some portions of Israel. Earlier in the Bible they were able to force many of the citizens of Israel to pay tribute to them. 

It may be that the Philistines think this is a good time to strike because word has gotten to them that King Saul isn't in good health. In Chapter 16 we learned that, due to his rebellious spirit toward the Lord, he has fallen prey to some type of mental or spiritual malady. News of his weakness may have encouraged the Philistines to come out in battle against Saul's army, thinking he will not be able to lead Israel's army to victory again. 

The author of 1 Samuel sets a dramatic scene for us. The soldiers of Israel are on a hillside facing the soldiers of the Philistines on the opposite hillside. Now an extraordinarily tall man steps out of the ranks of the Philistines and stands in front of the army. "A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span. He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekels; on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. His spear shaft was like a weaver's rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels. His shield bearer went ahead of him." (1 Samuel 17:4-7)

Different ancient cultures measured the cubit in different ways but the general consensus is that Goliath was several inches over nine feet tall. There's no reason to doubt this. In modern times there are many well-documented cases of gigantism; for example, I once stood beside a statue of the late Robert Wardlow who was measured at 8'11" in the 1940s. If you do an internet search for the world's tallest men in modern times, you'll find a very long list of men born between 1900 and 2000 who measured between seven and nine feet tall. I've known unbelievers to scoff at the idea that the giants of the Bible really existed but to scoff at that idea is to deny science. There are several conditions that cause gigantism, and some (such as when pituitary tumors are to blame) can be stopped by modern medicine that halts the overproduction of growth hormones, but in ancient times there was nothing that could be done to arrest such a medical problem.  A person would grow to the maximum limit his or her condition was capable of producing. If the Bible says Goliath stood over nine feet tall, we can rest assured that he really was over nine feet tall. 

Goliath's appearance would have been quite formidable to an average sized man. We are never told how tall King Saul was, only that he was head and shoulders taller than any other man in Israel at that time, but that didn't make him tall enough to be considered a giant. Goliath would have towered over him even if Saul were seven feet tall. When this next passage tells us Saul and his men were "dismayed and terrified", I think it's an understatement. I believe they are shaking so hard their knees are knocking together and their teeth are chattering. "Goliath stood and shouted at the ranks of Israel, 'Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.' Then the Philistine said, 'This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.' On hearing the Philistine's words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified." (1 Samuel 17:8-11)

Goliath says, "I'm here to offer you a deal. Your whole army doesn't have to come out and fight our whole army. That will only result in useless injuries and deaths on both sides. Pick your biggest, strongest, bravest man and send him out to fight me. He and I will fight to the death. The army of the winner takes all. Let's stop wasting time and let's avoid a lot of casualties by letting a fight between two men decide the whole issue." 

The problem is, the Israelites don't have a man who can match Goliath's size and Goliath knows it. That's why he makes the offer. He's confident he will overcome and kill any man they send to fight him. The Israelites believe he will overcome and kill any man they send to fight him. And that would be true if success or failure depended solely on size and brute human strength. But this battle will depend on the Lord's strength and it will be won by an unlikely candidate: a young shepherd who isn't even yet on the scene in our text. 

That young shepherd is David who was secretly anointed by the prophet Samuel as the next king of Israel. The youth who will slay a giant is also Saul's part-time musician. David isn't even old enough to serve in the army like some of his brothers but he will be more courageous than them all. "Now David was the son of an Ephrathite named Jesse, who was from Bethlehem in Judah. Jesse had eight sons, and in Saul's time he was very old. Jesse's three oldest sons followed Saul to the war: The firstborn was Eliab; the second, Abinadab; and the third, Shammah. David was the youngest. The three oldest followed Saul, but David went back and forth from Saul to tend his father's sheep at Bethlehem." (1 Samuel 17:12-15)

This stand off between the Philistines and the Israelites goes on for over a month. "For forty days the Philistine came forward every morning and evening and took his stand." (1 Samuel 17:16) Goliath challenges the Israelites twice a day for forty days. He makes fun of their fear. He blasphemes their God. He discourages their army from surging forward into battle by inviting them to send only one man out to fight him. He thinks they will eventually surrender without a fight at all. His twice-daily taunts are demoralizing to them, as he intends them to be. He is a war veteran who understands that battles are won or lost in the mind, not on the battlefield. He knows he can cause the Israelites to raise the white flag if he can make them lose hope. 

Satan uses the same tactics we find Goliath using. He likes to bombard us day after day with negative thoughts and negative images. He tells us the lie that it's no use fighting because we have no hope of victory. He knows if he can cause us to lose the battle in our minds we'll surrender to temptations or give in to doubts and fears. If we give up in our minds, we'll give up with our hands and feet---we won't boldly move forward on the Lord's command. We won't step up and do whatever the Lord is calling us to do. As a result, we'll be poor examples of the faith. We can't lead anyone else to the Lord if they see us living in a defeated attitude. They'll reason that if there is no help, comfort, or power to be had from a relationship with the Lord, why should they give Him their allegiance? If we, as believers, live lives that are controlled by doubts and fears and discouragement, we are giving false testimony about our God. We are dishonoring the great name of our mighty Savior. 

David will be offended for the Lord's sake and for Israel's sake when he hears Goliath dishonoring the name of the Savior. He will likely (though the Bible doesn't specifically say so) be astonished that not one man of Saul's army has stepped forward to defend the great name of the Lord or to defend the honor of Israel. David will do what no one else dares to do. He will do it because he trusts the Lord. The Lord has saved him from great danger before and he believes the Lord will save him from great danger again. David has already won the battle in his mind because his confidence is in the Lord; that is why he will win the battle on the field.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 45, David Called Into King Saul's Service

In yesterday's text, after anointing the young shepherd David as the next king of Israel, the prophet Samuel went home to Ramah. He didn't publicly declare David as king. He didn't lead a revolt to remove Saul from the throne and install David in his place. He left the timing of David's ascension to the throne up to the Lord. David also is content to leave the timing up to the Lord. After being anointed as king privately in his father's house, David goes right back to shepherding his family's sheep. 

Sometimes the Lord will reveal His calling on our lives many years before the opportunity comes to step into that calling. This requires trust and patience on our part. A young teen male, for example, may realize that the Lord wants him in the ministry someday but before that time comes he will need to gain some age, maturity, life experience, and education. The most popular opinion among Bible scholars seems to be that David was around fifteen years old when Samuel anointed him as king, though some say he could have been as young as twelve or thirteen. The Bible will tell us he is thirty years old when he actually becomes king, so a minimum of fifteen years will pass between his anointing and between his coronation. He needs those fifteen years, and all the things that happen during those years, to prepare him to lead the nation. 

But meanwhile the Lord has poured out an extra measure of grace, strength, and encouragement upon this young man, according to verse 13 from yesterday's study. At the same time that David is being mightily ministered to by the Holy Spirit, Saul begins to suffer in his human spirit. That's because Saul has rejected God's lordship over his life. Saul has no heart for the Lord and no desire to be led by Him. As a result of having rejected the Lord as king of his heart, the Lord has rejected Saul as king. The Lord has taken His protective hand off him, for Saul prefers that the Lord maintain a "hands off " approach to him, but that doesn't mean Saul's life will now be all fun and games. Saul thinks he's master of his own destiny but after having resisted the Holy Spirit many times, he falls prey either to wicked spiritual forces or to mental issues that have an organic origin, or a combination of both of these problems.

"Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him." (1 Samuel 16:14) The Lord doesn't afflict Saul with demon possession, in my opinion and in the opinion of those who are certainly more qualified than I to render an explanation of this verse. We cannot even be certain that Saul is afflicted by demon possession at all; many of the symptoms he will display in the book of 1 Samuel sound like paranoid schizophrenia. I personally think that his malady is a combination of spiritual, physical, and mental factors. When he rejected the Lord as having any authority over his life, and when he hardened his heart so much against the Lord that he became deaf to the pleadings of the Holy Spirit, the Lord gave him what he wanted: freedom from association with Him. This allowed Saul to give sway to all his natural, ungodly inclinations. This allowed spiritual forces (from whom he was protected before he became utterly reprobate in his soul) to tempt and trouble him. There is a void in Saul's life. There is an empty space in his heart. Humans are designed to worship the Lord and to have fellowship with Him, but when we do not allow Him to occupy the space in our hearts that is meant only for Him, we will try to fill it with something else or with someone else.

The Lord Jesus said something that relates to what we're studying today. He performed many exorcisms during His ministry. We are given a few specific examples of this but are also told that He healed everyone who came to Him and that He cast out demons in everyone who was brought to Him in that condition. So He performed hundreds, if not thousands, of exorcisms. And He said that when the demon is cast out, unless that empty space is filled with the Lord, the person can end up possessed again---and this time by possibly more than one demon. (You can find His discourse on this subject in Matthew 12:43-45 and in Luke 11:24-26.) Here in Chapter 16 we find the empty space in Saul being taken over either by a demon or by mental illness which his loose association with the Lord formerly kept at bay or by some type of physical illness (which perhaps he already had a genetic disposition for but which the Lord held back from him up until now) that manifests itself in emotional/mental instability. Whatever the case, Saul's problem will cause David to end up in his service.

"Saul's attendants said to him, 'See, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. Let our lord command his servants here to search for someone who can play the lyre. He will play when the evil spirit from God comes on you, and you will feel better.' So Saul said to his attendants, 'Find someone who plays well and bring him to me.' One of the servants answered, 'I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the lyre. He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the Lord is with him.'" (1 Samuel 16:15-18) At David's age I am not sure why the attendants refer to him as "a brave man and a warrior" unless they have heard that, in protecting the sheep, he killed both a lion and a bear that tried to attack them. (We'll learn a bit more about this in Chapter 17.) When we reach Chapter 17 we will see that his older brothers are serving as soldiers in the army but that David is not. Men of ancient Israel had to be at least twenty to be eligible for the army. It could be that Saul's attendants prophetically say (without even realizing they are speaking prophetically) that David is "a brave man and a warrior" because he will definitely prove himself to be these things in time. 

"Then Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, 'Send me your son David, who is with the sheep.' So Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them with his son David to Saul." (1 Samuel 16:19-20) Jesse considers it a great honor for King Saul to request the musical services of his son and he sends the best gift he can afford in order to thank and honor the king. Jesse and his household members know that the prophet Samuel anointed David to be the next king but it's doubtful anyone else knows it. Saul certainly doesn't or else he wouldn't have allowed David anywhere near the seat of power in Israel. In fact, he almost certainly would have had David killed if he had known about his anointing. This is a very safe assumption considering he will make several attempts on David's life as we move through this book.

"David came to Saul and entered his service. Saul liked him very much, and David became one of his armor-bearers. Then Saul sent word to Jesse, saying, 'Allow David to remain in my service, for I am pleased with him.'" (1 Samuel 16:21-22) David has found favor with God because he has a heart for God. The Lord causes David to find favor in the eyes of King Saul and many others with whom he will come in contact during his lifetime. Solomon, David's son, will say that when a person's ways please the Lord, the Lord will make even his enemies be at peace with him. (Proverbs 16:17) The Lord is able to make even unbelievers have a favorable opinion of His children. David is meant to be near the king and near the king's army so he can learn about running a government, running an economy, and running an army. The Lord sees to it that he ends up at the king's household and causes Saul to take him under his wing, even though Saul would be David's mortal enemy if he knew about the anointing by Samuel.

"Whenever the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him." (1 Samuel 16:23) People of ancient times blamed things they did not understand on "evil spirits". They didn't understand mental illness and they assumed it was caused by the possession or oppression of demonic forces. They didn't understand many physical illnesses either, such as seizure disorders, and they attributed things like epilepsy to demonic possession. We could rephrase verse 23 like this: "Whenever the Lord allowed Saul to experience melancholy (or unease, or panic, or obsessive thoughts, or paranoid ideas, et cetera), David would play for him and Saul's mood would improve." 

Saul is experiencing whatever he is experiencing because he rejected the Lord; the Lord is simply allowing him to feel the type of feelings that people tend to have when they have shut the Lord out of their lives. Shutting the Lord out of their lives leaves them feeling empty, unfulfilled, dissatisfied, angry, bitter, uneasy, jealous, and a number of other unhealthy and ungodly emotions. But David, who has spent years composing songs to the Lord while watching the sheep, has a soothing effect on Saul. I think there are several reasons for this. First, music has been scientifically proven to be capable of affecting brain waves. Second, music that extolls the holiness and glory of God is capable of lifting a person's spirits. Third, I think the companionship of David was comforting to Saul. When a person is very upset, it's so much worse when they have to deal with their feelings alone. David is a person who is confident in the Lord and this gives him a good measure of emotional and mental stability. It gives him an attitude of peace and trustfulness. David feels calm because he trusts the Lord and his calm spirit helps Saul to feel a sense of calmness.

There are some people whose presence just automatically makes us feel better. David, because of his close relationship with the Lord, is a person capable of making others feel better. He is able to "talk them down" from panic. He is able to reassure them when their imaginations are running wild. His peaceful confidence helps others to feel like things are going to be okay. Saul is actually being given another opportunity to give his heart and life to the Lord. David is in his household being a godly influence on him every day. Yet Saul continues to resist repenting. He continues to resist surrendering to the Lord where he would have found everything his soul is desperately longing for. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 44, David Anointed As King

In yesterday's passage the Lord told Samuel to go to Bethlehem to anoint the future king of Israel. He took a young heifer with which to make a sacrifice and invited a man named Jesse and his sons to the feast, upon instruction of the Lord. The Lord told him he'd chosen one of Jesse's sons to be king but He didn't tell him which one.

When Samuel sees Jesse's eldest son he thinks he must be the one. He is evidently very impressive in appearance. "When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, 'Surely the Lord's anointed stands here before the Lord.'" (1 Samuel 16:6) Outwardly Eliab looks almost as kingly as Saul, who we were told was the tallest and handsomest man in Israel. But inwardly Eliab doesn't have what the Lord is looking for in a king.

"But the Lord said to Samuel, 'Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.'" (1 Samuel 16:7) The Lord knows things about people that we don't know. We can be fooled by looks or charm or smooth words but the Lord knows each person's heart. That's why it's so important to consult Him when making decisions about close associations, such as in friendships, dating relationships, marriage, business partnerships, or in cases where we're responsible for hiring employees or appointing volunteers for church work. People may be able to deceive us sometimes but they can't deceive the Lord. If He tells us something is wrong, we better listen to Him. I've ignored that inner warning a few times in my life and ended up heartily regretting it. 

Samuel must have told Jesse the reason for his presence in Bethlehem. Jesse seems to know that one of his sons is about to be anointed king. After Samuel informs him Eliab is not the one, Jesse brings each of his other sons before Samuel, according to their birth order. "Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, 'The Lord has not chosen this one either.' Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, 'Nor has the Lord chosen this one.' Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, 'The Lord has not chosen these.' So he asked Jesse, 'Are these all the sons you have?'" (1 Samuel 16:8-11a) Samuel is perplexed. He knows the Lord told him that one of Jesse's sons would be the next king of Israel. As commanded by the Lord, he went down to Bethlehem and called Jesse and his sons to the feast but now all seven of them have passed before him and have been rejected by the Lord. Something is wrong here. Someone must be missing. When Samuel invited all of Jesse's sons he meant all of Jesse's sons but these can't be all of them because the Lord has said no about every one of them. 

It turns out that Jesse has one more son but he thought the young man of such little importance that he didn't bother calling him to the feast when Samuel requested the attendance of all of his sons. "'There is still the youngest,' Jesse answered. 'He is tending the sheep.'" (1 Samuel 16:11a) Jesse thought it so unlikely that the Lord would choose his youngest son to be king that he didn't even inform him of the feast. He left him in the fields with the sheep, which was a servant's job in households that could afford servants. In a family without servants (or without enough servants to spare one to watch the sheep) the youngest teen or pre-teen son was assigned the menial and often boring job of watching the flock. When Jesse says, "There is still the youngest. He is tending the sheep," I think he says it in a dismissive tone as if they shouldn't bother calling for him. Jesse thinks the next king of Israel is already present and that there's no way the Lord would call the young shepherd to lead the nation. But the years David has spent as a shepherd are part of what qualifies him to lead the nation. The many dull and lonely hours with no one but sheep around him are what have helped him develop a close relationship with the Lord. This is why the Lord said in 1 Samuel 13:14 that the king who would succeed Saul would be a man with a heart like the Lord's. David won't be perfect, of course. In fact, he'll mess up in some shocking ways. But he loves the Lord and he loves the Lord's people Israel. The Lord can do great things through a king like that.

Samuel insists on calling David to the feast even though Jesse is quite dismissive of the young man. "Samuel said, 'Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.'" (1 Samuel 16:11b) Jesse is probably thinking to himself, "This is a waste of time. There's no way the Lord wants David anointed as king. The future king is already in the room and this elderly prophet has misunderstood what the Lord is saying to him. Samuel is very old now and perhaps not as sharp as he used to be. But to humor the poor fellow I'll have David brought in and then he'll see that he isn't the one. Then it will become clear to him which of my other sons the Lord actually has in mind."

I don't know what it was about David that made his father (and his brothers too, as we'll see later in the book) think so little of him. It may just be because he's the youngest. The youngest child of a family is often not tasked with very much responsibility or allowed to do much thinking for themselves. Jesse and his older sons may not have seen anything especially impressive about David but the Lord has already been training him for a long time to assume the throne of Israel. David has been learning how to lead and manage stubborn sheep, which will help him to lead and manage stubborn humans. He's used to being the person of lowest rank in his household, which has fostered a humble spirit in him. He has given him a servant's heart because instead of being served he's used to serving his family and watching over the animals that belong to his family. He has a tender heart, like the Lord's, and will care deeply about his fellow citizens. This is in sharp contrast to Saul to who cares more about himself than about anyone else. David will be led by the Lord, not by his own emotions like Saul. This will enable David to be a stable and thoughtful leader, unlike Saul who will become more and more unstable as we progress through the book.

"So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features." (1 Samuel 16:12a) David is a nice-looking, physically fit young man but not the handsomest man in all Israel like Saul. He's not extra tall like Saul either. If David were placed in a group of other young men his age, I don't know that he'd have stood out in the crowd. I think it's likely no one would notice him more than those around him but the Lord has noticed him: the Lord has noticed his heart. 

When David is summoned from the sheep pasture to stand before Samuel, I am sure he is as surprised as anyone else to learn that the Lord is going to promote him to such a high position of leadership. He's never been allowed to be in charge of anything other than the sheep, which are "few" according to what his brothers will later say. But the Lord knows what He's doing. He knows the type of life training David has already had and He knows David's potential. David's family may have their doubts about what the Lord is doing but the Lord never makes mistakes. As soon as David comes into the room, the Lord reveals to Samuel that this is the next king of Israel. Samuel doesn't question the Lord's choice. He trusts it. "Then the Lord said, 'Rise and anoint him; this is the one.' So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah." (1 Samuel 16:12b-13)

David already had a relationship with the Lord but the Lord gives him extra grace and strength and encouragement now that his destiny has been revealed to him. David needs this extra boost because the idea of leading the nation must have been an overwhelming prospect for a teenage boy, especially for a teenage boy whose own family doesn't believe he's cut out for the job. The Lord gives him the assurance no one in his home is giving him, which may be part of the motivation for David making this statement many years later, "Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me." (Psalm 27:10) In other words, "If no one but the Lord believes in me, that is enough. If no one but the Lord supports me, that is all I need."

Monday, April 18, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 43, The Lord Tells Samuel To Anoint A New King

We were told at the end of Chapter 15 that Samuel didn't visit Saul for the rest of his life but that he mourned for him. He mourned for their broken friendship and he mourned over Saul's stubborn and unrepentant heart toward the Lord. We don't know how much time took place between the end of Chapter 15 and the beginning of Chapter 16 but in our text today the Lord tells Samuel it's time to get back to work. He has something very important for the prophet to do.

It's normal to mourn about sad things but the Lord loves us and doesn't want us to get stuck in sadness and not be able to keep moving ahead with our lives. As King Solomon famously said, there is "a time to mourn and a time to dance". (Ecclesiastes 3:4b) There's nothing wrong with mourning when it's appropriate but there is something wrong with letting ourselves miss out on the time of rejoicing---the time of dancing---when there are things to rejoice about. The Lord has good news for Samuel today. The Lord has chosen the next king of Israel and this king will be everything that Saul isn't. That's good news not only for Samuel but for the whole nation! It's time to stop weeping and start rejoicing.

"The Lord said to Samuel, 'How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.'" (1 Samuel 16:1) Samuel's mourning is a normal response to the condition of Saul's ungodly heart and the end of their friendship but sitting around feeling blue isn't going to change anything. It's not going to change who Saul is and it's not going to change the Lord's decision about Saul. The Lord has some positive action for Samuel to perform and it will be very helpful to him to concentrate on that. 

Samuel is willing to go to Bethlehem but wonders how he can accomplish the anointing of a new king without Saul having him executed for treason. "But Samuel said, 'How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.'" (1 Samuel 16:2a) Samuel knows Saul better than anyone else knows him. He's aware of how easily Saul gives in to rage. But even though Saul would consider it treason for Samuel to anoint another man as king, in reality it's not treason because Samuel is acting upon the orders of the Lord and the Lord is a greater authority than King Saul. The Lord is in charge of Israel and her kings. He has the right to promote or depose anyone He chooses.

"The Lord said, 'Take a heifer with you and say, 'I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.' Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for Me the one I indicate.'" (1 Samuel 16:2b-3) Samuel really is going to take a heifer with him to make a sacrifice. The Lord isn't telling him to lie. The Lord never tempts anyone to sin. As Jesus' brother James informed us, "When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me.' For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone." (James 1:13) If someone sees Samuel leading a heifer to Bethlehem and asks him where he's going with it, he'll be telling the truth when he says he plans to make a sacrifice with it at Bethlehem. He just won't be revealing what else he plans to do in Bethlehem. 

"Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, 'Do you come in peace?'" (1 Samuel 16:4) Samuel is the Lord's prophet and a former judge of Israel. Since Bethlehem was a small town, the appearance of Samuel is interpreted as a bad sign. The elders think, "Why would this great man go out of his way to visit us unless he has bad news for us? Perhaps the Lord is angry about something and has a word of judgment against us. Samuel is a man of God but that doesn't mean he's a weakling; he slaughtered King Agag of the Amalekites not long ago. Maybe he's come here, upon instruction of the Lord, to put to death someone who has grievously sinned against the Lord."

Samuel puts these men's fears at ease. "Samuel replied, 'Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.' Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice." (1 Samuel 16:5) The men are relieved to know this is an occasion for rejoicing before the Lord and not an occasion for mourning. It is an honor to have the prophet Samuel in their midst. They consider it a blessing for this man of God to come to their town and give thanks to the Lord together with them. 

The type of sacrifice Samuel is going to make is not a whole burnt offering. Those were made to acknowledge and atone for sin. Samuel's sacrifice is the type in which the people will share a ceremonial meal together in the attitude that the Lord (the source of all their blessings) is present at the table with them. This is probably a "fellowship offering", which we studied earlier in the Old Testament. There were other types of offerings---a "peace offering", for example---in which the people could share, so we can't say definitively what Samuel called his offering other than it could not have been a whole burnt offering. That would have been a very solemn occasion but the feast over which Samuel presides here in Chapter 16 is an occasion of thankfulness and rejoicing.

There is good reason to be thankful, for the Lord has chosen the next king even though the people don't know it yet. And this king will be a man who loves the Lord. He will be a man who loves his fellow Israelites. He won't be ruled by negative emotions like King Saul. He will be ruled by God's word. Imagine if every country in our day had as its head of state a man or woman who loves the Lord and wants to obey Him! Wouldn't this be a much kinder world to live in? Wouldn't we all be so much better off? Samuel is sad that Saul has no heart for the Lord, and we should all be sad whenever someone rejects the Lord, but at the same time Samuel knows Israel will be better off without King Saul. Israel needs a king who puts the Lord ahead of everyone and everything else. Join us tomorrow as the identity of the future king is revealed to the prophet Samuel.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Out Of Town

I will be where I don't have any Wi-Fi for three days. We will pick up the Bible study on Monday. Have a blessed Easter!

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 42, Samuel And Saul Stop Being Friends

Chapter 15 will conclude with a permanent rift between the prophet Samuel and King Saul. Up until now they have been what we could call friends---not close bosom buddies perhaps but at least two men with mutual respect for each other. But due to Saul's stubborn refusal to acknowledge or repent of his ungodly ways, Samuel will cut off contact with him. This doesn't mean Samuel doesn't still care about Saul. We'll discuss that at the end of our study today when we talk about the term "unconditional love" and about how it has become very misused and misunderstood in our day.

As we learned yesterday, Saul and his men refused to destroy everything belonging to the Amalekites because they felt some of the livestock was much too fine. They took a large number of the farm animals back with them to their army camp. When confronted with his failure to fully obey the Lord, Saul claimed he kept the best of the livestock in order to sacrifice it to the Lord. We pick up there with Samuel's reply.

"But Samuel replied: 'Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has rejected you as king.'" (1 Samuel 15:22-23) Saul has an arrogant spirit. He doesn't want to yield to the Lord's will; he wants to do his own will. That doesn't seem like such a big sin to him but Samuel points out that being unwilling to obey the Lord is as bad as dabbling in the occult or bowing down to an idol. Sin is sin, and while it's true that some sins produce more harm to others and bring more consequences on the sinner, the issue here is that Saul is not bothered by his sin. That's because he hasn't enthroned the Lord as king of his heart. He doesn't respect and honor the Lord as he should. This is why the Lord is going to remove him as king and transfer the throne to a man from another tribe. It's not just that Saul has disobeyed Him in this one incident. It's that Saul always has had a tendency to be stubborn and rebellious and because he will drift farther and farther from the Lord as time goes on. 

Saul makes a half-hearted confession of guilt but still tries to excuse his behavior. "Then Saul said to Samuel, 'I have sinned. I violated the Lord's command and your instructions. I was afraid of the men and so I gave in to them. Now I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord.'" (1 Samuel 15:24-25) He's saying something like, "Okay, okay, you've got a point. I didn't obey the instructions to the letter, I know. But the men really wanted those cattle and sheep! I was afraid they might attack me if I didn't let them have them. Who was going to protect me if they did? You weren't here to take charge of the situation as the Lord's prophet. Maybe if you'd gone with me I wouldn't have messed up. How did I know whether the Lord would keep me safe or not? I admit I didn't do exactly as I was told but that's only because I was scared. Please don't be mad at me! Let's put this behind us like it never happened. Let's go up on the hill and make a sacrifice to the Lord together just like old times. Then you and I won't be upset with each other and the Lord won't be upset with me either."

Saul doesn't feel sorry for his sin or confess it to the Lord and seek the Lord's forgiveness. He's unhappy that Samuel is angry with him but I don't get the feeling he's very concerned about displeasing the Lord. He seems far more concerned with losing Samuel's respect and the respect of the soldiers. He believes all he has to do is smooth things over with Samuel and then Samuel will ask the Lord to ignore his disobedience and the men will see that Samuel is still on his side, which will keep them on his side too. He doesn't take it seriously when Samuel tells him the Lord has rejected him as king. I'm not positive he was really even listening to him but, if he did take in those words, he likely thinks Samuel spoke them in a mood of intense frustration. Because Saul is a man led by his emotions, he thinks Samuel makes this statement in the heat of anger and that he doesn't really mean it.

Samuel repeats the message of the Lord regarding Saul's kingship. "But Samuel said to him, 'I will not go back with you. You have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you as king over Israel!'" (1 Samuel 15:26) Saul has rejected the Lord not just on this day but on many previous occasions. He doesn't want to submit his life to Him. 

"As Samuel turned to leave, Saul caught hold of the hem of his robe, and it tore. Samuel said to him, 'The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors---to one better than you. He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change His mind; for He is not a human being, that He should change His mind.'" (1 Samuel 15:27-29) The Lord has spoken and it's as good as done: the kingship will be taken from Saul, though a number of years will pass between Samuel's pronouncement and then. The Lord can make up His mind right now because He knows everything Saul will ever do. Saul will never repent and that's why the Lord will never relent. 

Saul is still more concerned with Samuel's and the people's opinion of him than the Lord's. If they see Samuel has lost respect for him, they might also lose respect for him. "Saul replied, 'I have sinned. But please honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel; come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord your God.' So Samuel went back with Saul, and Saul worshiped the Lord." (1 Samuel 15:30-31) Samuel goes with him, probably because the time is not yet to set up a new king of Israel. It will not profit Israel if the people rebel against the current king. The nation will not be able to effectively defend itself against its enemies if the people are not united and if Saul cannot command the army. When the Bible says "Saul worshiped the Lord" I think it means that he went through the motions of religious ritual. It's as if he doesn't realize the Lord can see his heart. He thinks he can perform actions to appease the Lord. This can be compared to someone thinking it's okay to live like the devil through the week as long as they attend church on Sundays. 

There is an issue that needs taking care of before Samuel takes his leave of Saul. "Then Samuel said, 'Bring me Agag king of the Amalekites.' Agag came to him in chains. And he thought, 'Surely the bitterness of death is past.' But Samuel said, 'As your sword has made women childless, so will your mother be childless among women.' And Samuel put Agag to death before the Lord at Gilgal." (1 Samuel 15:32-33) Agag has never shown anyone any mercy. Samuel does not show him any mercy. He does what Saul failed to do. 

"Then Samuel left for Ramah, but Saul went up to his home in Gibeah of Saul. Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him. And the Lord regretted that He had made Saul king over Israel." (1 Samuel 15:34-35) Samuel goes to his hometown and Saul goes to his hometown. The men are no longer able to keep company as friends and comrades. Saul will see Samuel again when he goes up to Ramah in Chapter 19, but he will be in Ramah for the purpose of violently pursuing David. He will see Samuel at Ramah but there is no indication that the two men had a warm conversation or any type of conversation at all; Saul won't be in a condition to socialize when he sees Samuel again. 

Samuel still loves his old friend and wishes he would change his ways. It grieves Samuel but he cannot continue to have Saul in his life. Saul is an impenitent sinner and I think maintaining a friendship with him would tarnish Samuel's reputation as a man of God and might cast doubt upon his authority in anointing the next king of Israel, which he will do soon. Also I think it breaks his heart too much to see the way Saul keeps drifting farther from God and keeps falling into more and more sin. It could even be that, as the Lord's prophet, perhaps Samuel has to be on the same page as the Lord in regard to washing his hands of the wayward king.

Here is where we'll discuss what I meant when I said earlier that the term "unconditional love" is being misused and misunderstood in our day. It has taken on this type of meaning: that if we love someone we must take whatever they choose to dish out. It has led us to think we must remain in contact with them no matter how many times they've lied to us, used us, or cheated us. A common misconception about unconditionally loving someone is that we cannot sever the relationship with them no matter how many times they've let us down. That is not true and that is not biblical! It can certainly be said that Samuel loves Saul unconditionally, for he continues to care about his welfare for the rest of his life. But his love for Saul does not obligate him to maintain a friendship with him. It doesn't mean he has to associate with him at all. The Lord Jesus made a similar point to this in Matthew 18. He said if a person transgressed against us, and if they refused three attempts to work things out, we could choose to have nothing more to do with them. Samuel told Saul three times that the kingship was about to be taken from him but he felt no sorrow over his sins and he felt no urge to repent. He just wanted Samuel to somehow smooth things over for him with the Lord. Samuel has the right to go no contact with Saul if this is what seems best to him. It doesn't mean he doesn't love Saul. It doesn't mean he won't pray for Saul's soul. It doesn't mean he wants anything bad to happen to Saul. It just means that, due to the condition of Saul's heart, it is not in Samuel's best interests or in the nation's best interests for the two men to remain friends. Saul is what we'd call in today's vernacular a "toxic friend". He doesn't even regard Samuel's desertion of him as a wake-up call to take stock of his life and be a better person. As a result he will soon become toxic to everyone around him.

(I will be where there isn't any Wi-Fi on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. So we'll meet here again on Monday for Bible study. I hope you have a blessed Easter.)

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 41, Samuel Confronts Saul About His Sin

The Lord instructed Saul to make an end of the Amalekites---to destroy them and everything that belonged to them because of their cruelty toward the Israelites. But Saul disobeyed. He preserved the life of Agag, king of the Amalekites. He also preserved the best of the livestock.

The Lord informed Samuel the prophet of Saul's disobedience in the passage we studied yesterday. Today Samuel confronts him over his sin. "Early in the morning Samuel got up and went to meet Saul, but he was told, 'Saul has gone to Carmel. There he has set up a monument in his honor and has turned and gone on down to Gilgal.'" (1 Samuel 15:12) The monument was likely a pillar or an arch to commemorate the victory of Saul and his army over the Amalekites. I don't think he set up an image of himself or an altar to himself. Saul was a prideful man without a true heart for God but I don't believe he was directing worship toward himself in the manner of many pagan kings. Still, all the glory should have gone to God. If Saul wanted to set up some type of stone of remembrance it should have been to honor the Lord's work on behalf of Israel.

Saul is completely unrepentant about not fully carrying out the Lord's instructions and will brag to Samuel that he has done all that the Lord commanded. As we've said many times, partial obedience is still disobedience. Saul did attack the Amalekites as the Lord commanded, but he did not make an end of all of them and he did not thoroughly destroy everything that belonged to him. He has King Agag in his custody and, as we were told yesterday, he and his men spared "the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs---everything that was good". They were covetous of these items and wanted to keep them as the spoils of war. 

"When Samuel reached him, Saul said, 'The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord's instructions.' But Samuel said, 'What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?' Saul answered, 'The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.'" (1 Samuel 15:13-15) There is so much wrong with what Saul says! First of all, he makes a false statement when he claims to have carried out the Lord's instructions. Then he denies responsibility for having brought the livestock from the Amalekites, saying "the soldiers" brought them and that "they" spared them. Yesterday's text plainly told us that the soldiers and Saul made this decision, but even if the decision had been made solely by the soldiers, Saul is responsible for what his soldiers do. He should have refused to let them take the animals. Upon being asked about his possession of the animals, he claims that the livestock was taken for a noble purpose: to sacrifice it to the Lord. Even if this were true, it would still be a sin against the Lord because this is not what the Lord told Saul to do. The Lord didn't ask for sacrifices. He made it quite clear that nothing that had belonged to the Amalekites was to be taken into the possession of the Israelites. Finally, Saul refers to the Lord as "the Lord your God" and not as "the Lord my God" because he doesn't have a personal relationship with the Lord. 

Samuel doesn't want to hear any more excuses or lies. "'Enough!' Samuel said to Saul. 'Let me tell you what the Lord said to me last night.' 'Tell me,' Saul replied. 'Samuel said, 'Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. And He sent you on a mission, saying, 'Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; wage war against them until you have wiped them out.' Why did you not obey the Lord? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the Lord?'" (1 Samuel 15:16-19) 

Saul still insists he has done no wrong. "'But I did obey the Lord,' Saul said. 'I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.'" (1 Samuel 15:20-21) Saul wasn't supposed to bring back King Agag. He wasn't supposed to take any of the livestock. It's not even true that Saul "completely destroyed" the Amalekites. He and his men did wipe out the main settlement of them but later in the Bible we will learn that there are still Amalekites in existence. David will have to deal with the Amalekites. An Amalekite will stab King Saul. A descendant of King Agag of the Amalekites will almost succeed in carrying out a plot to kill all the Jewish people in the book of Esther. It appears that Saul was content with destroying a large majority of the Amalekites and that he and his men did not pursue those who fled from them, likely because they were busy rounding up the best of the livestock before the animals could also flee from them. 

In tomorrow's study we'll find Samuel telling Saul that obedience is better than sacrifice. The Lord told Saul what He wanted him to do but Saul did not fully obey Him. Instead he claims he intended to sacrifice the choice livestock to Him, which is something the Lord didn't ask for. We could compare Saul's behavior to someone who has broken several of the Lord's laws and commandments during the week but who thinks putting money in the offering plate on Sunday morning will cause the Lord to turn a blind eye to sin. The Lord wants Saul's heart to be right with Him. He wants Saul to repent and let Him mend his ways. But Saul will persist in pride, stubbornness, and rebellion. As a result, he and Samuel will part ways and won't speak any further to each other.

Monday, April 11, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 40, Saul Disobeys The Lord

The final verses of Chapter 14 set the scene for a major act of disobedience by Saul in Chapter 15.

"After Saul had assumed rule over Israel, he fought against their enemies on every side: Moab, the Ammonites, Edom, the kings of Zobah, and the Philistines. Wherever he turned, he inflicted punishment on them. He fought valiantly and defeated the Amalekites, delivering Israel from the hands of those who had plundered them." (1 Samuel 14:47-48) We'll learn more about the conflict with the Amalekites as we begin Chapter 15 momentarily. 

"Saul's sons were Jonathan, Ishvi and Malki-Shua." (1 Samuel 14:49a) Saul had more sons than these, as we'll be informed later on, but the remaining verses of Chapter 14 have to do with Saul's powerful army and his powerful family. These three sons are the ones who served in his army. 

"The name of his older daughter was Merab, and that of the younger was Michal. His wife's name was Ahinoam daughter of Ahimaaz. The name of the commander of Saul's army was Abner son of Ner, and Ner was Saul's uncle. Saul's father Kish and Abner's father Ner were sons of Abiel. All the days of Saul there was bitter war with the Philistines, and whenever Saul saw a mighty or brave man, he took him into his service." (1 Samuel 14:49b-52) This military service was likely involuntary, for Samuel warned the people in Chapter 8 that the king would take their sons into his service (conscript them into his army).

Now we move on into Chapter 15 to study the war with the Amalekites. "Samuel said to Saul, 'I am the one the Lord sent to anoint you king over His people Israel; so listen now to the message of the Lord. This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came out of Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.'" (1 Samuel 15:1-3) 

The Amalekites are descended from Esau's grandson Amalek. These people attacked the Israelites, without provocation, as the weary travelers made their exodus from Egypt. The Amalekites were especially cruel in sneaking up behind the group to strike down those who were traveling the slowest: the elderly, those with illnesses, those with handicaps. The slowest movers may also have included pregnant women and those who were carrying or leading small children. The Lord vowed to wipe the Amalekites from the earth for this atrocious crime. Although the Amalekites who carried out the attack in Exodus 17 are long dead, their descendants still harbor the same unreasonable hatred for the Israelites. The Amalekites are still heathen idolaters, living in opposition to the Lord. They have the same spirit as their forefathers who attacked the Israelites during the exodus. 

"So Saul summoned the men and mustered them at Telaim---two hundred thousand foot soldiers and ten thousand from Judah. Saul went to the city of Amalek and set an ambush in the ravine. Then he said to the Kenites, 'Go away, leave the Amalekites so that I do not destroy you along with them; for you showed kindness to all the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt.' So the Kenites moved away from the Amalekites." (1 Samuel 15:4-6) Moses' father-in-law was a Kenite and the Kenites showed kindness to the Israelites when they came out of Egypt. They remained friendly with them and lived among and around them. Saul does not want the Kenites to become casualties of war when the fighting starts and he warns them to flee the area.

"Then Saul attacked the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, near the eastern border of Egypt. He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword. But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs---everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed." (1 Samuel 15:7-9) Saul disobeys the Lord who instructed him to utterly destroy everyone and everything among the Amalekites. Saul kept the best of the livestock and spared the life of the king. The livestock was perhaps spared so he and his men could take them as spoils of war, though he will later claim that these animals were being reserved for sacrifices to the Lord, but the Lord did not ask him to save any of the livestock for sacrifices. Saul may have spared the king's life in order to humiliate him and hold him captive as a war trophy. This could be for the purpose of reveling in his triumph over the Amalekites or it could be so the other heathen kings of the region would think twice before going up against the army of Israel. Whatever Saul's reasoning was, his actions were in direct disobedience to the Lord.

The Lord informs the prophet Samuel of what has happened. "Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel: 'I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from Me and has not carried out My instructions.' Samuel was angry, and he cried out to the Lord all that night." (1 Samuel 15:10-11) The Lord doesn't use the word "regret" in the way you or I would use it. When we say we regret something it's usually because we didn't realize we were making a mistake or we didn't understand how unpleasant the consequences of a particular choice would be. The Lord knew exactly what kind of man Saul was and He knew everything Saul would do as king. He isn't surprised by any of Saul's actions. When the Lord says He regrets making Saul king, He is letting Samuel know that He is displeased with Saul's character and lack of reverence for the things of God and that He is rejecting Saul as king because Saul has rejected all the Lord's invitations to have a personal relationship with Him. Saul has turned down every opportunity he's been given to be a better man. The Lord won't remove Saul from the kingship immediately but He is telling the prophet Samuel ahead of time that the royal family of Israel will not be Saul's family line. The crown will be taken from Saul and given to someone more worthy, at the right time and in the right way. The Lord has already selected the next leader of Israel and will soon send Samuel to anoint him as king. 

Saul partially obeyed the Lord in attacking the Amalekites but partial obedience is still disobedience. The Lord cannot bless such poor behavior because that only reinforces poor behavior. Saul will make excuses for his actions but the fact remains that the Lord could not have been more clear when He told him what to do. Saul simply chose to do what he wanted to do. The Lord wants a better king for Israel than a man who will always do what he wants to do. The Lord has chosen a man who will ask Him what he should do.